Franz Kafka wrote that “” I once shared this sentence with a class of seventh graders, and it didn’t seem to require any explanation.
We’d just finished John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men. When we read the end together out loud in class, my toughest boy, a star basketball player, wept a little, and so did I. “Are you crying?” one girl asked, as she got out of her chair to take a closer look. “I am,” I told her, “and the funny thing is I’ve read it many times.”
But they understood. When George shoots Lennie, the tragedy is that we realize it was always going to happen. In my 14 years of teaching in a New York City public middle school, I’ve taught kids with imprisoned parents, abusive parents, irresponsible parents; kids who are parents themselves; kids who are homeless; kids who grew up in violent neighborhoods. They understand, more than I ever will, the novel’s terrible logic—the giving way of dreams to fate (命运).
For the last seven years, I have worked as a reading enrichment teacher, reading classic works of literature with small groups of students from grades six to eight. I originally proposed this idea to my headmaster after learning that a former excellent student of mine had transferred out of a selective high school—one that often attracts the literary-minded children of Manhattan’s upper classes—into a less competitive setting. The daughter of immigrants, with a father in prison, she perhaps felt uncomfortable with her new classmates. I thought additional “cultural capital” could help students like her develop better in high school, where they would unavoidably meet, perhaps for the first time, students who came from homes lined with bookshelves, whose parents had earned Ph.
Along with Of Mice and Men, my groups read: Sounder, The Red Pony, Lord of the Flies, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. The students didn’t always read from the expected point of view. About The Red Pony, one student said, “it’s about being a man, it’s about manliness. ”I had never before seen the parallels between Scarface and Macbeth, nor had I heard Lady Macbeth’s soliloquies (独白) read as raps (说唱), but both made sense; the interpretations were playful, but serious. Once introduced to Steinbeck’s writing, one boy
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